More McGrath Conversation
James McGrath responded on his blog site to my comments posted here a week or so ago. Readers can consult what he had to say at the following URL:
Because of the importance of the critical issues involved, I offer a few more comments here.
First, I haven’t commented on the inscriptions and few other items cited by McGrath (and others previously), because they don’t serve as real analogies or precedents for what we’re trying to understand in historical terms. An appeal on a gravestone to God and his angels to avenge the murder of the buried person, magical invocations of angels, etc., all are very interesting in themselves; but they don’t comprise evidence of anything like the programmatic, regularized constellation of public/corporate devotional practices that seem to have characterized earliest Christian circles. Let’s keep clear what it is we’re trying to compare and understand.
Second, McGrath proposes that these early Christian devotional practices are accounted for because Jesus was a real historical person whom believers saw as Messiah. But there were a number of real historical figures taken by their followers as Messiah, and yet we have no evidence suggesting that any of these figures became the recipient of corporate devotion in the way that Jesus was in early Christian circles. So, again, the explanation offered by McGrath seems to me to founder on the rocks of historical data.
Let it be clear: The earliest Jewish Christian believers did not see themselves as departing from full loyalty to their ancestral deity. They saw their devotion to Jesus as mandatory, in response to God’s exaltation of Jesus as recipient of this devotion. In their own eyes at least, they did not depart from the “monotheistic” stance of second-temple Judaism. But the pattern of their identifying devotional practices, for which we have no precedent or analogy in second-temple Judaism, seems to me to constitute a noteworthy development that can be described as a significant adaptation in Jewish monotheistic practice, a distinctive “mutation”.